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Dead Men's Money(Chapter23)

2006-08-28 23:39

  Chapter XXIII. Family History

  I was watching Mr. Lindsey pretty closely, being desirous of seeing how he took to Mr. Gavin Smeaton, and what he made of him, and I saw him prick his ears at this announcement; clearly, it seemed to suggest something of interest to him.

  "Aye?" he exclaimed. "Your father hailed from Berwick, or thereabouts? You don't know exactly from where, Mr. Smeaton?"

  "No, I don't," replied Smeaton, promptly. "The truth is, strange as it may seem, Mr. Lindsey, I know precious little about my father, and what I do know is mostly from hearsay. I've no recollection of having ever seen him. And——more wondrous still, you'll say——I don't know whether he's alive or dead!"

  Here, indeed, was something that bordered on the mysterious; and Mr. Lindsey and myself, who had been dealing in that commodity to some considerable degree of late, exchanged glances. And Smeaton saw us look at each other, and he smiled and went on.

  "I was thinking all this out last night," he said, "and it came to me——I wonder if that man, John Phillips, who had, as I hear, my name and address in his pocket, could have been some man who was coming to see me on my father's behalf, or——it's an odd thing to fancy, and, considering what's happened him, not a pleasant one!——could have been my father himself?"

  There was silence amongst us for a moment. This was a new vista down which we were looking, and it was full of thick shadow. As for me, I began to recollect things. According to the evidence which Chisholm had got from the British Linen Bank at Peebles, John Phillips had certainly come from Panama. Just as certainly he had made for Tweedside. And——with equal certainty——nobody at all had come forward to claim him, to assert kinship with him, though there had been the widest publicity given to the circumstances of his murder. In Gilverthwaite's instance, his sister had quickly turned up——to see what there was for her. Phillips had been just as freely mentioned in the newspapers as Gilverthwaite; but no one had made inquiries after him, though there was a tidy sum of money of his in the Peebles bank for his next-of-kin to claim. Who was he, then?

  Mr. Lindsey was evidently deep in thought, or, I should perhaps say, in surmise. And he seemed to arrive where I did——at a question; which was, of course, just that which Smeaton had suggested.

  "I might answer that better if I knew what you could tell me about your father, Mr. Smeaton," he said. "And——about yourself."

  "I'll tell you all I can, with pleasure," answered Smeaton. "To tell you the truth, I never attached much importance to this matter, in spite of my name and address being found on Phillips, until Mr. Moneylaws there came in last night——and then, after what he told me, I did begin to think pretty deeply over it, and I'm coming to the opinion that there's a lot more in all this than appears on the surface."

  "You can affirm that with confidence!" remarked Mr. Lindsey, drily. "There is!"

  "Well——about my father," continued Smeaton. "All I know is this——and I got it from hearsay: His name——the name given to me, anyway——was Martin Smeaton. He hailed from somewhere about Berwick. Whether it was on the English side or the Scottish side of the Tweed I don't know. But he went to America as a young man, with a young wife, and they were in New Orleans when I was born. And when I was born, my mother died. So I never saw her."

  "Do you know her maiden name?" asked Mr. Lindsey.

  "No more than that her Christian name was Mary," replied Smeaton. "You'll find out as I go on that it's very little I do know of anything——definitely. Well, when my mother died, my father evidently left New Orleans and went off travelling. I've made out that he must have been a regular rolling stone at all times——a man that couldn't rest long in one place. But he didn't take me with him. There was a Scotsman and his wife in New Orleans that my father had forgathered with——some people of the name of Watson,——and he left me with them, and in their care in New Orleans I remained till I was ten years old. From my recollection he evidently paid them well for looking after me——there was never, at any time, any need of money on my account. And of course, never having known any other, I came to look on the Watsons as father and mother. When I was ten years old they returned to Scotland——here to Dundee, and I came with them. I have a letter or two that my father wrote at that time giving instructions as to what was to be done with me. I was to have the best education——as much as I liked and was capable of——and, though I didn't then, and don't now, know all the details, it's evident he furnished Watson with plenty of funds on my behalf. We came here to Dundee, and I was put to the High School, and there I stopped till I was eighteen, and then I had two years at University College. Now, the odd thing was that all that time, though I knew that regular and handsome remittances came to the Watsons on my behalf from my father, he never expressed any wishes, or made any suggestions, as to what I should do with myself. But I was all for commercial life; and when I left college, I went into an office here in the town and began to study the ins and outs of foreign trade. Then, when I was just twenty-one, my father sent me a considerable sum——two thousand pounds, as a matter of fact——saying it was for me to start business with. And, do you know, Mr. Lindsey, from that day——now ten years ago——to this, I've never heard a word of him."

  Mr. Lindsey was always an attentive man in a business interview, but I had never seen him listen to anybody so closely as he listened to Mr. Smeaton. And after his usual fashion, he at once began to ask questions.

  "Those Watsons, now," he said. "They're living?"

  "No," replied Smeaton. "Both dead——a few years ago."

  "That's a pity," remarked Mr. Lindsey. "But you'll have recollections of what they told you about your father from their own remembrance of him?"

  "They'd little to tell," said Smeaton. "I made out they knew very little indeed of him, except that he was a tall, fine-looking fellow, evidently of a superior class and education. Of my mother they knew less."

  "You'll have letters of your father's?" suggested Mr. Lindsey.

  "Just a few mere scraps——he was never a man who did more than write down what he wanted doing, and as briefly as possible," replied Smeaton. "In fact," he added, with a laugh, "his letters to me were what you might call odd. When the money came that I mentioned just now, be wrote me the shortest note——I can repeat every word of it: 'I've sent Watson two thousand pounds for you,' he wrote. 'You can start yourself in business with it, as I hear you're inclined that way, and some day I'll come over and see how you're getting along.' That was all!"

  "And you've never heard of or from him since?" exclaimed Mr. Lindsey. "That's a strange thing, now. But——where was he then? Where did he send the money from?"

  "New York," replied Smeaton. "The other letters I have from him are from places in both North and South America. It always seemed to me and the Watsons that he was never in any place for long——always going about."

  "I should like to see those letters, Mr. Smeaton," said Mr. Lindsey. "Especially the last one."

  "They're at my house," answered Smeaton. "I'll bring them down here this afternoon, and show them to you if you'll call in. But now——do you think this man Phillips may have been my father?"

  "Well," replied Mr. Lindsey, reflectively, "it's an odd thing that Phillips, whoever he was, drew five hundred pounds in cash out of the British Linen Bank at Peebles, and carried it straight away to Tweedside——where you believe your father came from. It looks as if Phillips had meant to do something with that cash——to give it to somebody, you know."

  "I read the description of Phillips in the newspapers," remarked Smeaton. "But, of course, it conveyed nothing to me."

  "You've no photograph of your father?" asked Mr. Lindsey.

  "No——none——never had," answered Smeaton. "Nor any papers of his——except those bits of letters."

  Mr. Lindsey sat in silence for a time, tapping the point of his stick on the floor and staring at the carpet.

  "I wish we knew what that man Gilverthwaite was wanting at Berwick and in the district!" he said at last.

  "But isn't that evident?" suggested Smeaton. "He was looking in the parish registers. I've a good mind to have a search made in those quarters for particulars of my father."

  Mr. Lindsey gave him a sharp look.

  "Aye!" he said, in a rather sly fashion. "But——you don't know if your father's real name was Smeaton!"

  Both Smeaton and myself started at that——it was a new idea. And I saw that it struck Smeaton with great force.

  "True!" he replied, after a pause. "I don't! It might have been. And in that case——how could one find out what it was?"

  Mr. Lindsey got up, shaking his head.

  "A big job!" he answered. "A stiff job! You'd have to work back a long way. But——it could be done. What time can I look in this afternoon, Mr. Smeaton, to get a glance at those letters?"

  "Three o'clock," replied Smeaton. He walked to the door of his office with us, and he gave me a smile. "You're none the worse for your adventure, I see," he remarked. "Well, what about this man Carstairs——what news of him?"

  "We'll maybe be able to tell you some later in the day," replied Mr. Lindsey. "There'll be lots of news about him, one way or another, before we're through with all this."

  We went out into the street then, and at his request I took Mr. Lindsey to the docks, to see the friendly skipper, who was greatly delighted to tell the story of my rescue. We stopped on his ship talking with him for a good part of the morning, and it was well past noon when we went back to the hotel for lunch. And the first thing we saw there was a telegram for Mr. Lindsey. He tore the envelope open as we stood in the hall, and I made no apology for looking over his shoulder and reading the message with him.

  "Just heard by wire from Largo police that small yacht answering description of Carstairs' has been brought in there by fishermen who found it early this morning in Largo Bay, empty."

  We looked at each other. And Mr. Lindsey suddenly laughed.

  "Empty!" he exclaimed. "Aye!——but that doesn't prove that the man's dead!"

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